December 18, 2018
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Mainers hit by windstorm outage get extra time to enroll in ACA plans

Jon Elswick | AP
Jon Elswick | AP
The federal government has granted Maine residents affected by the October wind storm an extension to sign up for health insurance under the ACA.

Mainers impacted by the prolonged power outages of the late October windstorm have until the end of the month to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The deadline for individuals to sign up — originally Dec. 15 — has been extended to midnight on Dec. 31, according to Maine’s insurance bureau.

Affected Maine residents now qualify for the same deadline extension granted to Americans impacted earlier this fall by major hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

The decision was communicated to the state Tuesday by officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the ACA marketplace, according to Judith Watters, consumer outreach specialist at the Maine Bureau of Insurance.

“People should go online and fill out the application,” Watters said Tuesday afternoon.

The system will automatically deny the application because it is beyond the general deadline of Dec. 15.

“Then they need to contact the call center, ready to answer some questions and explain their circumstances,” she said. “They should make it clear they’re calling because of the October storm in Maine.”

Determination will be based on individual circumstances, and benefits for those who qualify will be effective Jan. 1, even if applications are still being processed, Watters said. The need for specific documentation will be determined by the federal agency.

Damage and disruption caused by hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma fall under a provision in the ACA that allows the deadline to be extended for people affected by natural disasters and other events, according to healthcare.gov, the official website of the ACA. In November, U.S. Sen. Angus King requested the deadline be extended for Mainers impacted by the October windstorm.

“In what was already a shortened open enrollment period, those were valuable days during which many in Maine were not able to explore the different plans available or purchase coverage,” King said in a statement Tuesday.

This year’s open enrollment period was about six weeks shorter than in previous years, because of limits on the ACA imposed by the Trump administration.

The powerful overnight storm that blew across Maine knocked out electricity and internet service to an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses and caused extensive damage to roads and properties. More than 10 days passed before power was fully restored, despite an army of repair trucks that arrived from other states and Canada after Gov. Paul LePage declared a state of emergency. On Nov. 30, LePage filed a formal request for federal disaster relief funding to help offset the cost of the repair and cleanup.

Despite the storm, and ongoing political opposition and uncertainty about the future of the ACA, signups were brisk during the open enrollment period that began Nov. 1 and ended Dec. 15.

In Maine, about 40,600 plans had been selected for 2018 as of Dec. 9, the end of the sixth week of open enrollment, according to CMS data. That’s up from 33,564 plans at the same time last year.

In 2017, an estimated 79,500 Mainers, including spouses and dependents of individual policyholders, were covered by an ACA plan. The great majority, about 90 percent, qualified for an income-based subsidy to help pay for their monthly premiums.

The Healthcare.gov call center can be reached at 800-318-2596, 24 hours a day.

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